A Journalist Had to Flee From Kiev After Publishing Articles About Ties Between Neo-Nazis & Facebook Partners

This week, the scandal connected with the topic of links between censors (“fact checkers”) of the Ukrainian segment of the largest social network Facebook with ultra-right radical organisations has not abated in the Kiev media environment.

The problem of links between Ukrainian Facebook partners from the StopFake organisation and radical nationalists was first raised in March this year by the Ukrainian news agency “Strana”.

After that, we prepared a whole series of publications on this topic.

After “Strana” it was picked up by other publications. In particular, the site “Zaborona”.

After that, a massive campaign of harassment and threats from nationalists and the ultra-right started against “Zaborona”. And the other day, the editor-in-chief of “Zaborona” Ekaterina Sergatskova said that she had to leave Kiev with her family.

The scandal has reached an international level.

As was reported by “Strana”, the British “Independent” newspaper said that the journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova left Kiev because of threats received from the ultra-right after publishing information about their ties with Facebook partners. The international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch also defended the journalist.

As a result, the media (living mainly off western grants), which accused “Zaborona” of lying and spreading “pro-Russian propaganda”, were forced to defend the journalist. In order to save face, they also called on law enforcement to investigate the threats made against her.

The reasons for the conflict between Facebook censors, ultra-right radicals, on the one hand, and the publication “Zaborona” led by journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova, on the other hand, were understood by “Strana”.

How Facebook banned “Zaborona”

The conflict started with the fact that the online publication “Zaborona” on July 3rd published an article entitled “Facebook blocked ‘Zaborona’ for criticising neo-nazis. It turned out that Ukrainian social network fact checkers are close friends with them”.

The reason for the publication was the removal from the “Zaborona” Facebook page of an article about the activities in Ukraine of one of the leaders of the ultra-right movement Denis Nikitin.

This is a Russian football hooligan, the founder of the clothing brand “White Rex”, which is popular among ultra-right radicals, and one of the more famous neo-nazis in Europe, who has been living in Ukraine in recent years.

After the publication of “Zaborona”, a wave of indignation rose on social networks from the side of “patriots-activists”. They denied that “StopFake” was linked to the ultra-right, and launched a campaign of harassment against “Zaborona” and its journalists.

StopFake denied everything

On July 8th, a response to the publication of “Zaborona” appeared on the “StopFake” website, marked as “the position of the supervisory board of StopFake”. The organisation denied all allegations of links to the ultra-right:

At first, “StopFake” said that it’s not true that the article of “Zaborona” was blocked: “The reason for the publication was the alleged blocking of the article on the page of this resource by fact checkers. The authors state this in the first paragraph of the text. But StopFake has never blocked any materials from the ‘Zaborona’ website on the Facebook network”:

This refutation appears to be manipulative. “Zaborona” in its article did not claim that its article was blocked by “StopFake”. The “Zaborona” headline said that the article was blocked by Facebook, which is a completely different organisation.

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I.e., “StopFake”, in fact, accused “Zaborona” of not writing, and then denied it.

Another claim of “StopFake” against “Zaborona” concerned the source of information about involvement in neo-nazism. “StopFake” claimed that the only such source was the American journalist Christopher Miller.

“StopFake” added that Miller “repeatedly demonstrated a subjective and hostile attitude to the project (meaning StopFake), spreading emotional and unconfirmed information”:

“StopFake” also denied its employee Marko Suprun has links with the ultra-right. This is the husband of the controversial former Minister of Healthcare Ulyana Suprun and host of the English-language Youtube channel “StopFake”. I.e., he is actually the face of “StopFake” for a western audience.

“StopFake” reported that the conclusions about Marko Suprun’s ties with the ultra-right were allegedly made only on the basis of photos where Marko Suprun “is next to people whom the author of the article considers to be radicals”.

There were other arguments in the publication. In conclusion, “StopFake” listed its accolades and asked Facebook management to “jointly develop strategies to protect partner organisations.”

How Zaborona responded to StopFake

The next day, on July 9th, “Zaborona” refuted the “StopFake” publication and completely rejected the accusations made against it. This publication was framed as answers to the most popular questions and accusations:

In response to complaints that Marko Suprun’s ties with the ultra-right are confirmed only by joint photos, “Zaborona” cited statements made by figures of ultra-right groups who themselves spoke of having close relations with Marko Suprun.

“Zaborona” also refuted the claims made by “StopFake” against American journalist Christopher Miller. “Zaborona” quoted, in particular, the BBC correspondent John Fisher, who regarded the publication of “StopFake” as an attack on “the best foreign correspondent in Ukraine”. And the correspondent of the French newspaper La Croix, Fabrice Deprez, called the criticism against Miller “very funny”.

The exchange of reproaches caused a wave of discussions on social networks. “Zaborona” and its editor, Ekaterina Sergatskova, were accused of spreading “pro-Russian propaganda” and an offer was made to send her to Russia.

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Skrypin joined the bullying

Discussions turned into real harassment after the former head of the TV channel “Gromadske telebachennya” Roman Skrypin joined them.

On July 11th, he posted a Facebook photo of the chief editor of “Zaborona”, Ekaterina Sergatskova, with her five-year-old son, accused the journalist of being an “agent of the Kremlin”, and suggested that she leave for Russia.

After that, in the comments, Facebook users started to publish information about Sergatskova’s address and even threatened to kill her.

After numerous complaints, Facebook deleted this post, but Skrypin continued to post other offensive posts about Sergatskova. Additional aggressive posts made by the same journalist remained untouched. “You block one post,” wrote Skrypin, “but I will write 10 more”.

Skrypin also posted a photo of himself with a gesture resembling a fascist greeting:

Both Skrypin and numerous commentators have repeatedly, sometimes in an aggressive form, suggested that Ekaterina Sergatskova “return to Russia”. There were also numerous threats.

Ekaterina Sergatskova used to live in Volgograd (Russia), but moved to Ukraine about ten years ago. In 2015, she received Ukrainian citizenship from the hands of Petro Poroshenko.

The reason for the behavior of Roman Skrypin, apparently, lies in the acute conflict that started between the journalists of “Gromadske” back in 2015-2016. Both Skrypin and Sergatskova worked there.

The channel was created at the end of 2013 on western grants, and at first was completely focused on Euromaidan coverage. Roman Skrypin was one of the founders and then the head of the TV channel.

Then a conflict broke out in the team of “Gromadske”. Roman Skrypin was accused of embezzling €212,000 collected from PayPal donations, and $38,000 of profit from the YouTube channel.

Roman Skrypin was expelled from “Gromadske” in January 2016, and the organisation elected a new head, the journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk. She wrote a police report against Skrypin. In May 2016, the Pechersky district department opened a criminal case against Skrypin. But later, the case “stalled”.

The journalist had to flee with her family

After the harassment and threats received, Ekaterina Sergatskova was forced to leave Kiev. This was first reported by the British “Independent” newspaper.

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Sergatskova told the British newspaper that she had reported the threats to the police, but did not expect real protection.

As the “Independent” noted, earlier harassment of journalists by right-wing radicals led to murders.

The publication recalled that in 2015, the journalist and writer Oles Buzina was killed a day after the leak of his address on the website Mirotvorets. A year later, journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed in his car in the centre of Kiev.

“We do not feel safe, and officials are silent. How can you feel safe knowing how strongly right-wing radicals are connected to the police and security services?” Sergatskova said.

Activists were afraid of the consequences of harassment

After fleeing from Kiev, Ekaterina Sergatskova and her family were supported by journalists and human rights organisations.

The initiative of independent journalists “34” condemned the harassment of Sergatskova and called on law enforcement to promptly investigate the statement of threats.

The international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch also expressed support for Sergatskova and called on the Ukrainian government to guarantee her safety.

“Journalists should not have to fear for their lives because of what they report. The Ukrainian authorities must immediately investigate these threats and guarantee the safety of Sergatskova and her family,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Finally, even “StopFake” was forced to speak in support of Ekaterina Sergatskova. This organisation was among the signatories of a collective appeal that was published by media and public organisations that exist mainly through western grants.

They reported that they were “deeply shocked” by the information that Ekaterina Sergatskova was forced to leave Kiev as a result of pressure and threats, including from right-wing radicals, as well as mass bullying on social networks (which, we note, was largely generated by the statements of “StopFake” itself):

However, it was preferred not to mention root cause of the conflict – the uncovered links between Facebook censors from “StopFake” and ultra-right-activists and public figures. They also accused only Roman Skrypin of starting the harassment, although insults and threats against the journalists of “Zaborona” from the ultra-right started long before he published the address and photo of the journalist’s child. Here is one of the most striking examples:

In any case, the scandal has already acquired an international scale.

Aleksey Romanov

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